Having revamped his sound, relocated to London, and gone on tour with the likes of Pete Doherty, A-Ha and Alice Merton, Sion Hill – or Nathan Johnston, off the stage – is on the way to a new album, and a big reputation.
Sion Hill’s journey has taken in spells in Hamburg and Berlin as well as the English capital, but it’s the more metaphorical sense of being lost that carries through in his music, which speaks open-heartedly about issues like anxiety and self-consciousness.
His sound is a kind of indie-pop soul blend, with a little bit of gospel thrown in. Here’s what he sad to say for himself from the heart of the coronavirus shutdown…
Have you noticed a big difference between basing yourself in London and being back home, in terms of getting your music out there?
It’s always going to be hard in London, isn’t it? It’s such a big city – more people, more musicians, more budding artists. Back home the scene is actually quite small but I do miss being a part of something more connected and the Irish scene is pretty dope right now as well!
London feels like the epicentre of the music biz in Europe. There are so many people coming and going from everywhere. In that sense, it’s good for spreading music across a wider audience. It’s hard to see the value now though – when there’s no gigs, it doesn’t really matter where you are as everything’s online anyway…
Elephant has been out for a while now. How do you see it looking back?
Elephant was a product of a very different time in my life. I still think it’s a nice collection of songs but it was sort of a different project as I originally played in a duo with a friend from school and we recorded the album together so it’s obviously going to have a very different feel.
I’m really focussed on looking forward right now to my next album and appreciating working with some great people along the way. It’s no use looking back really, I just want to keep creating and let my sound develop as my life and experiences develop with it.
Is another album on the way, and if so what stage are you at with it right now?
Yes, there’s a new record coming! It’s pretty much ready but we had to suspend the last session when everybody went into lockdown so we’re just waiting to get a date in the studio and put the finishing touches on it. I recorded half of it in Hamburg and the other half in Liverpool… Both being Beatles territory – so it’s hard to not have that rub off a bit on the sound. It’s a vibe though and I’m super excited to get it out there soon.
What do you hope to deliver with album two when it does come around?
A friend asked me recently what is the record about, which is a hard question because it’s a culmination of a lot of things. It’s not a concept album as such but it is definitely a snapshot of the changes we go through during our early twenties.
It is difficult finding our place in the world, it’s easy to feel lost and unsure if we are on the right path. I know so many young people like me who struggle with anxiety every day and so I’ve taken my experiences and used them to say, “It’s okay, I’m with you. I know how you feel. You’re not alone in this!” That’s my message I suppose, I want this album to be a sense of encouragement for people who are feeling slightly adrift in the chaos of growing up.
Of course, I could answer your question by saying, I hope the record goes platinum, gold, sells a million copies etc. and don’t get me wrong – that would be wonderful. But my priority is to make people feel a little less isolated and put smiles on their faces. The more people I can touch with my music, the more I feel like I’ve done something right in my own life.
I understand you’ve been on tour with Alice Merton recently. How was that?
Yeah, that was awesome. I miss touring!! Alice is so lovely to be around and I got to play for some big crowds all over Europe and travel in a nightliner with her and the crew which was amazing. The whole tour was such a buzz, especially as I got to come home and play Whelans in Dublin. That was my first time playing there but it was a support show – it would be a dream to come back and sell out my own headline show there!
Tell me a Sion Hill touring story…
I was on tour with A-ha in 2018 and was once singing A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ really loudly in a weird opera voice in the bathroom stall in the backstage. I thought I was alone but when I came out of the cubicle and walked straight into Morten Harket – the lead singer of A-ha and he finished the line for me… it was pretty awkward lol.
How are you coping with the current coronavirus shutdown?
I’ve been pretty lucky to be with my family during this and we have a big garden so that’s been a blessing really. I do miss gigging a lot but I’ve had a lot of time to write and work on new music so that helps big time. I actually wrote a piece for MYP Magazine in Berlin about this topic. It was called isolation stories from abroad and has other isolation stories from Kuwait and Bahrain. It’s pretty interesting to see the different ways other people have coped. I know I am definitely one of the lucky ones.
What are your plans for the future?
There’s going to be another couple of singles before the record comes out… and I want to wait until things start to open up and I can get back out touring, so that won’t be for another few months.
In the meantime, I’m doing live acoustic sessions and Q&A’s every Thursday on instagram. We’re all playing a waiting game at the moment unfortunately so right now I’m going to play with my dog and chill with the fam at home and hopefully I’ll be back on the road soon!